Report: Communication Problems Slowed Hunt for N.Y. Cop Killer

The monthslong manhunt last year for fugitive Ralph "Bucky" Phillips was hindered by communication problems and over-reliance on an elite unit of the New York State Police, according to an internal state police review released Friday.

"The review uncovered various operational deficiencies, and recommendations have been suggested to correct those deficiencies," the state police report said. "It was determined that these shortcomings did not materially or adversely impact the final outcome of the manhunt."

Among the findings was criticism that field commanders did not communicate instructions clearly enough as nearly 1,400 members of the state police and hundreds of other officers from local, county, state and federal agencies conducted the "largest and most challenging search in the history (of state police)."

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Meanwhile, deficiencies within the state police radio system — and the belief that Phillips and acquaintances were monitoring dispatches — led commanders to use cell phones to convey assignments, a decision the report called "an error."

Based on 1,390 interviews, the review also found commanders relied too much on the state police Mobile Response Team, whose members were not always immediately available to pursue sightings of Phillips and other major investigative leads.

"The practice during this manhunt was that most, if not all, initial responses were assigned to the MRT ... Consequently, some apprehension opportunities may have been lost because immediate MRT response was not a practical expectation," the 160-page report said.

After escaping from the Erie County Correctional Facility April 2, 2006, Phillips shot three state troopers, one fatally, before being captured Sept. 8.

Phillips opened fire on Trooper Sean Brown during a traffic stop June 10 near Elmira. Brown was hit once and recovered from the wound. Phillips then ambushed MRT team members Joseph Longobardo and Donald Baker Jr. Aug. 31 with a high-powered rifle, shooting each of them once as they searched for Phillips in his native Chautauqua County. Longobardo had his leg amputated and died three days later. Baker was shot through the torso and was hospitalized for almost three months.

The Police Benevolent Association of New York State Troopers has been critical of decisions by local commanders in western New York during the search.

The union said Friday it had not yet seen the report and had no immediate comment.

"The manhunt for Ralph "Bucky" Phillips was the largest and most challenging search in the history of the New York State Police," according to the report, which was ordered by former Superintendent Wayne Bennett because of "the unparalleled complexity and scope" of the operation.

The report found that "a majority" of police agencies interviewed found the communication and cooperation between the State Police and other agencies "in the range from effective to excellent." The chiefs or officers in charge of every outside police agency involved during the manhunt were interviewed for the review.

Phillips, 44, pleaded guilty to murder and attempted murder and is serving 40 years to life in prison in Clinton County Correctional Facility.